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All in the family: Enman's 'Miss Montana' flies again

All in the family: Enman's 'Miss Montana' flies again

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They met in Drummond at a high school dance.

Old photos show he was a handsome basketball star for the Trojans. She was a dark-haired beauty from Philipsburg.

Mac was a ranch kid and president of his senior class of 1941.

Marge was orphaned at age 13 and lived with a sister in Oregon before returning to Philipsburg and graduating in 1943.

Malcom "Mac" Enman and Margery McRae were married that July.

And when he went away to war he made her his Miss Montana.

"Is that you in the picture?” Barbara (Enman) Komberec asked her mother last week at the Museum of Mountain Flying.

“I think so,” came the reply.

Margery Enman Wickham is 95. She suffered a head injury in a fall 12 years ago and has been unable to walk or talk well since.

But on a visit to the museum with colleagues from the Philipsburg Nursing Home, she knew exactly which picture her daughter was asking about.

It’s the nose art on the B-25 bomber that Mac Enman flew in battle over the Gilberts, Marshalls, Carolines and Marianas in World War II.

The art has been updated and, ahem, dressed up for a new version of Miss Montana. In less than a year a DC-3 smokejumper plane has been resurrected from mothball status at the flying museum.

If all goes well, it’ll leave this week on a trans-hemispheric journey that winds up in Normandy, France, next month for the 75th anniversary of D-Day, and in Germany for the 70th anniversary celebration of the Berlin Airlift. Some $450,000 has been raised in less than a year for the project.

Miss Montana, the plane, has long towered over other aircraft in the museum hangar. Some called it the Mann Gulch plane for its part in the 1949 smokejumper tragedy above Gates of the Mountains north of Helena. To the aviation world, it’s N24320.

“We knew that in order to get the community around a project like this, it had to have an identity,” said Eric Komberec, president of the Museum of Mountain Flying and Margery Wickham’s grandson.

“The first thing that came to my mind was nose art, something similar to the Memphis Belle or the D-Day Doll, a name that everybody knows what we’re talking about,” he said.

The Miss Montana project was the brainchild of Komberec and Bryan Douglass. They were in Atlanta, Georgia, in March 2018 picking up an antique smokejumper training plane when they heard about the D-Day Squadron (See Territory, Page E-1).

“Around the same time we had gone over some of the old photos that my grandmother had in her collection of my grandpa’s World War II bomber that happened to have the nose art and the name Miss Montana,” Komberec said. “I thought, what a great, fitting name and great way to tie the whole story together to a real-life war hero from Drummond, Montana, that probably most people have never heard of, who defeated all odds and survived the war and came back to run a successful cattle business.”

Barbara Komberec is the volunteer accountant for the flying museum and the Miss Montana project. She said her father, Mac, was a smoker since age 13.

He died at age 53 in 1977, just a few years after he and Marge sold their ranch operation and moved the “Dream House,” as the family still calls it, near Drummond above the Clark Fork River and Highway 1.

Truth be told, Barbara isn't convinced the lady on the side of her father’s B-25 is supposed to be her mother. Risqué was the word for airplane nose art back then. As scantily clad as that Miss Montana painting was, it was modest compared to many.

“I think that at all the bases they had people who did the painting on all the planes,” Barbara said.

Mac Enman’s Miss Montana was probably painted at the Stockton Airfield in California. That was his last training stop after enlisting in the Army Air Corps in 1942, shortly after his 18th birthday on Feb. 3.

It must have been the summer of '43, after his first tour overseas, when Enman came home on leave to see his parents.

“He said he was going to leave early to go down to see Mom,” who was in California after high school, Barbara said.

Mac’s mother sensed something was up.

“Grandma said, ‘Well, do you want me to go, too, in case you need me to sign some papers?’ He said, ‘No, no.’ But shortly after he got to California he gave her a call and my grandma had to come to California so she could sign papers so he could get married," said Barbara. "He wasn’t old enough. They had both just turned 19.”

Mac Enman and Margery McRae were wed in Sacramento on July 28, 1943. A story in the Montana Standard that November said 2nd Lt. Malcolm W. Enman had joined four other youths from Drummond as members of “Uncle Sam’s air forces.” He was back in the South Pacific and had “participated in daring raids that included the battle of Midway” in June 1942.

“Before entering foreign duty, he participated in a routine flight with six cadets from California to Missoula and was able to fly his plane over his parents’ ranch home near Drummond,” the story said. “At that time he enjoyed a three-hour leave with his family in Missoula.”


Jay Coughlin, Mac’s and Marge’s oldest son born in 1946, is the keeper of his father’s war history. Mac preferred not to talk about his service, so Jay did some digging on his own.

It turns out Mac Enman flew some 55 missions in the Pacific, and a whopping 265 combat hours. He was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross (introduced in World War I) and President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Air Medal with five oak leaf clusters. Enman also received the Asiatic-Pacific Theater and American Defense ribbons and stars for participation in three major campaigns: the Gilbert, the Marshall, and the Caroline Islands.

Most heroically, he came back home to Marge in one piece. East of Drummond they raised cattle and three children — Jay, Tom and Barbara, who lives at Bearmouth with her husband Dick Komberec, one of the founders of the Museum of Mountain Flying and the last man to fly Miss Montana for Johnson Flying Service more than 40 years ago.

Her mother was a worthy Miss Montana, Barbara Komberec said.

Among other things, she carried a bowling average of around 175 and was an avid tournament golfer out of her home course in Deer Lodge.

“Very competitive,” Komberec said. “Her dad died when she was 10 and her mom died when she was 13, so she’s a very independent spirit. I think that had a lot to do with it. It affected her whole life, really.”

As Eric Komberec sees it, her spirit is emblematic of the all-hands-on-deck effort to get the “new” Miss Montana to Normandy next month.

Of the 15 airplanes in the D-Day Squadron, “we’re probably the only one that is entirely funded by all-volunteer service, by donations and volunteer labor,” he said. “That’s the remarkable thing. It’s not like we just took it to a shop and said, ‘Here, we want a new airplane,’ and pay for it.

“We’ve had to build our work force, we’ve had to teach people how we want them to work on the airplane, and to pay for it. All that has been grown in 10 months, not only the airplane itself, but the labor force, and through the winter time in Montana, which was one of the worst winters we’ve had.”


Lingering generator issues had postponed Miss Montana’s first test flight around Missoula until Saturday and moved the scheduled departure date of Monday back at least a few days.

When all systems are go, including weather, a crew that includes Eric Komberec, Douglass, pilots Jeff Whitesell, Art Dykstra and mechanics Randy and Crystal Schonemann will leave with Miss Montana from Northstar Jet at the Missoula airport.

It’ll take two days to get to Oxford, Connecticut. Phillips 66 is contributing $7,500 worth of fuel to get across the U.S., so there’ll probably be refueling and inspection stops at Phillips-branded Fixed Based Operators in Rapid City, South Dakota; Wichita, Kansas; Rogers, Arkansas, and Tri-City Aviation in northeast Tennessee.

In Connecticut, D-Day Squadron airplanes will do formation trainings, then fly together to aviation sites throughout New England. Next Saturday, May 18, a formation flight is planned down the Hudson River, over Manhattan and around the Statue of Liberty.

The flight to Europe begins the next day out of Waterbury-Oxford Airport. In the following week there’ll be stops in Goose Bay, Newfoundland; Narsarsuaq, Greenland; Reykjavik, Iceland, and Prestwick, Scotland. The U.S. contingent meets up with other “Dakotas from around Europe in Duxford, England, in late May. The schedule there before a June 5 D-Day crossing and paratrooper jump includes practice sorties and two drops of some 300 parachutists in England on June 4. 


Miss Montana was a military aircraft built for war too late to get there.

Her history is with the smokejumpers of the Rocky Mountain West, but the journey over the North Atlantic is a chance to rub wings with the warbirds she was intended to join.

It seems Montana gets forgotten on the larger stage, Eric Komberec said.

“What a great way to get a historic airplane and make not only national news but world news," he said. "And also, unless you’re from the Northwest, you’re not really familiar with what a smokejumper is or what is entailed to become one of the elite firefighters that we all take for granted, just from growing up here or being involved in the timber industry.

“It’s kind of a good way to tie all that together.”

As for his grandmother, she’ll stay home and watch from afar, just as she did so many years ago.

“I think it’s pretty nice,” Marge Enman Wickham said. “It’s going to be OK.”

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Outlying communities, transportation, history and general assignment

Outlying communities, transportation, history and general assignment reporter at the Missoulian

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